2019 Breeders’ Cup will remain at Santa Anita. Board cites ‘meaningful and effective reforms.’

Breeders’ Cup announced to return to Keeneland in 2020

Breeders' Cup Chairman Fred Hertrich, joined by dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Mayor Jim Gray, officially announced that the 2020 Breeders' Cup would be returning to Keeneland for the second time after previously hosting it in 2015.
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Breeders' Cup Chairman Fred Hertrich, joined by dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Mayor Jim Gray, officially announced that the 2020 Breeders' Cup would be returning to Keeneland for the second time after previously hosting it in 2015.

Horse racing’s biggest day of racing will play out at controversy-ridden Santa Anita Park in California as originally scheduled.

The Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors, in a unanimous decision Thursday, decided not to move their annual World Championships to a different site in the wake of 30 horse fatalities at Santa Anita’s just-concluded winter/spring meet.

The 36th annual Breeders’ Cup is scheduled to be held Nov. 1-2 at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack, a venue that has hosted the championship event 10 times — more than any other track.

Churchill Downs in Louisville was one potential site possibly under consideration for a move had Breeders’ Cup officials opted for a move. Churchill has hosted the Breeders’ Cup nine times, including last year.

“Foremost among the core values of the Breeders’ Cup are the safety and integrity of the competition, and we hold ourselves, our host sites and our competitors to the highest standards of both,” Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, said in a news release. “It is clear that meaningful and effective reforms and best practices have been implemented in recent months at Santa Anita through the collective efforts of The Stronach Group, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, and the California Horse Racing Board. We fully embrace those reforms and will devote our time and energy in the coming months to further advance those efforts. We look forward to showing the world the best in Thoroughbred racing at one of its finest venues.”

Breeders’ Cup officials declined to comment further after their meeting in Lexington.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called for Santa Anita to suspend racing after the numerous fatalities during the winter/spring meet. She reacted to Thursday’s announcement by saying a move to Churchill Downs would have been worse than remaining in California.

“Who could possibly have thought that it was a good idea to move the Breeders’ Cup from a track that is trying to stop the carnage to one with an even more shameful record of fatalities?” Guillermo said. “The Breeders’ Cup board made the right decision. Now, it should disallow trainers with multiple medication violations from all races.”

Records obtained by the Courier-Journal from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in March showed that 43 Thoroughbreds died as a result of racing injuries at Churchill Downs since 2016, including 16 last year. The Louisville track averaged 2.73 deaths per 1,000 starts last year, the Los Angeles Times reported. Santa Anita averaged 2.04. The national average was 1.68.

Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason, whose racetrack is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup in 2020, said the Lexington venue “fully supports” Thursday’s decision by the Breeders’ Cup board.

“We know it was not undertaken lightly, and required extensive thought and discussion by all parties involved,” Thomason said in a news release. “Given the continued reforms implemented by The Stronach Group for the safety of horses and jockeys, Santa Anita has positioned itself to be an appropriate host site for this year’s World Championships. The Breeders’ Cup has the best interest of our equine and human athletes at the heart of every decision it makes, and this one is no exception.”

National Thoroughbred Racing Association President Alex Waldrop also released a statement in support of Thursday’s decision.

Just this week, legislation was passed to allow the agency overseeing horse racing in California to now immediately suspend licenses to protect the health and safety of horses and riders.

“Business as usual has resulted in too many horse deaths,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news release announcing that he signed legislation expanding the authority of the California Horse Racing Board. Previous state law limited the board’s authority to suspend racing licenses.

Santa Anita Park finished its season on Sunday, and races are scheduled to resume in September.

The deaths at Santa Anita Park have shocked the industry. The board and the Los Angeles County district attorney have been jointly investigating the deaths since March.

Two weeks ago, Newsom directed the board to adopt new safety standards and a five-member board to review medical, training and racing history of horses.

Newsom’s office said 38 horses were scratched or denied entry at Santa Anita Park since then. The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, also banned Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from the track after four of his horses died.

Herald-Leader staff writer Janet Patton and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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